Garden, Plant, Cook!

Thursday, January 07, 2016

The Great Caper Caper Update aka Growing Capers in the Desert

Dear Folks,

If you love capers, hopefully you have been following my updates on the Great Caper Caper Mystery aka how to successfully germinate seed and grow caper plants in the desert.

The prior post on the project is here.

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Suzanne Vilardi and I started this about 3+ years ago and we have been successful in our goals.  Growing a mother plant, harvesting seed, germinating seed and growing young plants.

Fast forward to this spring and summer when I planted some of Suzanne's first generation plants in various locations in my gardens to trial where they do best.

The good news is they did outstanding in full sun with minimal watering after they were established.

The bad news is this was THE year of the flea beetle which thrived in the soil because of our mild winter last year.

FYI - this year's cold winter should inhibit their activity in our gardens.  Purchase neem sprays or you can try BT powder if you see activity in the spring and summer.  STAY on it by doing daily bug inspection particularly around the broccoli family plants and greens like arugula (my arugula looked terrible until the invasion was over - then I pruned it back and new growth was delicious).  These pest are active at night and early morning hours before the sun hits the plants.

Established plants weather the infestations okay, but a young plant can struggle or die.

July, September, December, 2015
In the picture I show the healthiest of the young plants just going to town in July, then being attacked in September and what the poor thing looked like on December 31, 2015.  I have hopes of the plant making it through to spring - we will see and I will keep you posted.  I did try both BT and Neem Spray, but the infestation was too quick to try and keep up with the beetles - and they fly so you have to be really good at catching them in the sprays.  The BT is probably more helpful if you can target the plants when the weather is dry.  I had less success because the pests came out when we were getting some monsoon rain and it just washed the BT off. almost immediately.

I was particularly excited about this planting area because 1) it is in FULL sun, and 2) during the summer, after it got established, it was ONLY watered once a week (deep watering for about 2 hours), except for the summer rains, which are always hit and miss.  This area is also slightly recessed (the best way to set up gardens in the desert) so all moisture was held in the beds.

The Other Transplants and The Mother Plant

4 other plants did not make it past the first month or two after transplanting in April and it was just one of those things.  Not enough sun or the soil stayed too wet.  Capers are high drainage Mediterranean plants which love growing out of rock crevices in full hot sun.

The two other thriving transplants are in a more typical garden set up some folks may be using.  An established area with over head trees BUT with a West and South facing orientation, which means they got a lot of sun during the day, but were aided by a lot of duff mulch on the soils surface.  They are just under the drip line of the tree canopy.  This entire area, including trees was sprinkler watered every 2 days for an hour during the summer   Don't be mislead by the hour aspect sprinkler watering works but distributes the water over a larger area not focused only on the root system.

The Mother plant has been thriving for about 3+ years in a North West exposure, in the same duff/mulch conditions and has just loved it there.

On December 31, 2015, the Mother plant is now about 6 feet across and the two youngsters are 2 and 2.5 feet (the plant in between them is an artichoke).  The center picture in the collage is one of the young plants in July at about 7 inches tall.

This past fall I again supplied Suzanne with fresh harvested seeds and she just reported some spouting activity.

We have a facebook group page on the project.  It is a closed group you can ask to join.  We check for trolls before accepting group participants, so you can comfortably participate on the group once you are accepted.

Check out the facebook page devoted to this.

I am so happy this project has succeeded.  Perhaps one of the local farmers may choose to grow capers in the desert for commercial harvesting and it would be do in no small part to Suzanne's asking me about 4 years ago if I wanted to try and see if I could get a plant or two to grow - happily - here in the desert.

THANK YOU, Suzanne Vilardi  (Vilardi Gardens on Facebook) for asking and trusting me to partner with you on this - it has been a fun experiment that succeeded.

We expect plants to be for sale in late spring through Vilardi Gardens.


Through the rain.

This series of storms is just dumping a LOT of water on the valley and it is both an opportunity and a benefit (hopefully no flooding).  We are going to save at least a month's worth of watering bill because we turned off all of our auto watering features AND the property is totally bermed except for a small driveway, so we can capture up to 3 inches of standing water (and there was standing water in some of the gardens yesterday) before the berms over-flow.

SOW after the rains have finished otherwise you risk them being washed away.

PLANT  before or during rains because it helps the soil seal well around the plants.  If the plants are small cover with a poor man's cloche (gallon plastic jugs with the bottom cut off) to keep the tender growth from being pounded, but still taking advantage of the rain.

Seasonal Planting

Sowing and planting here in the desert is all about timing for best success.  We are at the end of the winter sowing and planting and getting into the beginning of spring sowing and planting.

That means you can still plant sugar peas, carrots, beets, lettuces and similar short maturity vegetables, along with bare root strawberries and asparagus, but you can start tomatoes, peppers, basil, eggplant and similar warm weather lovers inside for transplanting out on February 1st (using the cloche for the last few frost night protection.

My gardening wall calendar provides month by month planting info, gardening tips and maintenance help and, while dated, can be used as a perpetual reference - with pretty pictures from my gardens :-)


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